What is toxic positivity?

Waffles the pug smiling and showing his teeth.
My daughter’s pug Waffles putting on a happy face. “Treats, please?”

When our daughter calls me upset, my reaction is to try and tell her that it’s not that bad. That things will improve and maybe there’s a silver lining. My desire is to make her happier, to make her pain go away.

After reading an article in the Wall Street Journal called Toxic Positivity Is Very Real, and Very Annoying by Elizabeth Bernstein, I understood why my daughter gets upset when I try to cheer her up. I never heard the term “Toxic Positivity” before, but it’s what I do. The article gives a ton of examples of well-meaning parents and friends making someone with an issue feel worse. Here are a few paragraphs from the story:

Forcing ourselves or others to always be positive can be harmful to our well-being and our relationships. There’s a better approach.

Pushing away difficult emotions, such as sadness or fear, and forcing ourselves or others to be positive can be harmful to our mental well-being and our relationships, psychologists say. This is because practicing false cheerfulness—which they call “toxic positivity”—keeps us from addressing our feelings, and the feelings of others.

Yes, cultivating a positive mindset is a powerful coping mechanism, especially in tough times. But positivity needs to be rooted in reality for it to be healthy and helpful.

“Toxic positivity is positivity given in the wrong way, in the wrong dose, at the wrong time,” says David Kessler, a grief expert and the author of six books about grief, including his latest, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.”

It sounds like this: “Cheer up!” “Don’t worry!” “Stop focusing on the negative!” “Try to have a better attitude!”

We’re all guilty of it. Many of us were taught as children to banish so-called bad feelings—to pick ourselves up when we fall, stop complaining and count our blessings. And our fix-it-fast culture reinforces the message that to be positive is to succeed. (Just consider the phrase “winning attitude.”)

Often, we go overboard on positivity because we just don’t want to feel bad. And we don’t want the people we care about to feel bad, either.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/tired-of-being-told-cheer-up-the-problem-of-toxic-positivity-11635858001?mod=life_work_lead_pos1

My daughter told me that when I say “look on the bright side,” I don’t find her feelings to be valid. What she wants from me — and there are many examples of this in the article with other parents and children — is to listen to how she feels.

I’m sure my glass-half-full outlook is based on my childhood emotional issues, like my parents fighting or divorcing. In other words, I covered up my feelings and fears with a veneer of a positive attitude that was like hiding under the covers, which I did every night.

My last kernel of truth for today:

“It’s not our job to solve problems for our children, but it is our job to listen and love them.” — E.A. Wickham

Have you heard of toxic positivity? What are your thoughts about it?

Do you have someone in your life that uses it, or have you used it yourself with family members and friends?